HARTFORD, Conn. – Neither rain nor thunder nor lightning nor two weather delays could keep Donal Reilly from his first Connecticut State Golf Association title.
Reilly birdied four of seven holes midway throughout a closing 1-under-par 70 that gave him a 36-hole total of 2-over 144 and a four-stroke victory over Eric Ashworth at The Patterson Club in Fairfield.
“I’ve been banging balls for 48 years, and it all came to fruition today,” said Reilly, who started the final at 3-over and two strokes back. “It is a great and a wonderful experience all around.”
After he bogeyed two of the first four holes, Reilly began his birdie run at par-4 seventh hole. He was 4-over for the tournament and led by only one shot when he returned to the course for the final eight holes and continued his surge. On the par-4 10th hole, he hit his approach shot from 120 yards to 10 feet and then trickled in a downhill birdie putt.
Two solid pars followed, including a nifty up-and-down on the par-3 12th hole after his tee shot came to rest just feet from the water to the left of the green. Now leading by two, Reilly chipped in for birdie from 15 feet on the 13th hole.
“I lost my sand wedge somewhere on the golf course,” Reilly said, “so I used my 60-degree wedge for the shot which I normally wouldn’t use for that shot but it worked out pretty well.”
Then on the par-5 14th hole, Reilly drained a downhill 12-foot putt for birdie to all but put the tournament away. He did bogey No. 15, but he closed with three pars to card the only under-par round of the tournament that was two strokes better than the rest of the field.
Originally from Ballymahon, Ireland, a town an hour west of Dublin, Reilly began playing golf when he was 10 years old, hitting balls into his neighbor’s farm field. Reilly, who plays cross-handed, continued to play the game while in boarding school at a nearby par-3 course, but it wasn’t until after he moved to the United States in 1987 that he began to take his game to the next level.
“It isn’t unusual for guys from Ireland to have a cross-handed grip,” Reilly said. “We play a game called hurling, which is similar to field hockey and you have to be able to swing the stick in both directions. I didn’t play a lot of hurling, but a lot of guys swing cross-handed so it isn’t as unique over there as it is here. I’ve been doing it for the best part of 40 years and is too late to change now.”
For parts of the final round, Reilly felt as if he was a round back home in Ireland. The skies were gray and the rain fell on and off, forcing two delays.
“I play in the rain so it feels like home to some degree,” Reilly said. “I can’t say that it really affects me at all. It is just part of what we do when we play so quite honestly, I was relaxed about the whole thing and I felt good all day so it really isn’t that big of an issue for me.”
Ashworth, from the EClub of Connecticut, was 1 over through eight holes before closing with 10 pars for 72-148, one better than Tom Hagel of the host club (76) and Michael Hooper of Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield (75). Six-time champion Bill Hermanson (Black Hall Club-Old Lyme) and Glen Boggini (Manchester CC) tied for fifth at 150.
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